Please mister, please. Don’t play B-17…

I’m a firm believer that from the day we’re born there’s a clear pathway that runs from our ears straight to our brains. Anything that we hear goes right to central processing with no sort of buffering. Over the years we start to build up filters to block some things out. These filters are both psychological and physical in nature. (The physical aspect of the filters is composed of equal parts of Bazooka Bubble Gum, earwax, and Play-Dough, while the psychological blocks come into play when we hear harmful words and expressions, or abstract thoughts that our immature minds can’t handle quite yet.)

That’s what I believe. Firmly. But I also happen to believe that there’s a portion of our baby brains that try their best to make sense of the things that we’re hearing and seeing around us. We really want to know what’s going on, so we use a form of creative visualization to try and suss things out. We might not have all the information needed, but if we can piece enough things together, we might be able to figure out that mommy and daddy are fighting about sex, or money, or why their son uses words like ‘suss’.

As we get older, that problem solving portion of our brains keeps on chugging along, but to a more limited degree. Couples who have together for years start to infer things, instead of spelling every word out. We can watch movies set in Scotland or England and even if we miss every couple of words, we can still more or less figure out what people are saying.

Another avenue for us to try and fill in the blanks and figure out what the hell is going on is when it comes to music. You hear a song on the radio, and if the melody has a nice hook you listen for it again. This time you pay closer attention to the lyrics. The third time you start to sing along (or whistle through your teeth, like my good friend Rob Dahlberg. I’ve never heard him sing a note but I would definitely want him on my team during a game of Name That Tune. The man is a monster and we would kick royal ass). By this time you’ve pretty much got most of the lyrics down and you’re firming up the storyline. Sometimes everything makes perfect sense. Other times you figure the musicians must have been passing around the crack pipe in the studio, because the catchy little ditty you’ve been singing along to, doesn’t make a lick of sense.

My wife suggests that the reason I don’t get many of them is because they deal with the drug culture in the 70s and 80s. Or that they reference things not readily available in the Midwest, where I grew up. I can go along with both of these. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the 70s sucking down on a bong and then noshing on Vegemite sandwiches

For whatever the reason, here’s a list of songs that have troubled me for years:

Stairway To Heaven - Led Zeppelin
(I enjoy listening to this song. I’ve heard it a lot of times over the years. I don’t have a single clue as to what they’re talking about. Sample lyric:
“If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, Don't be alarmed now, It's just a spring clean for the May queen.”
Huh? What the bloody hell is going on here?)

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
(Okay, I sort of get this one. A little. It’s about a guy who killed a man and now the devil has big plans for him, but he’s crying to his mama. Wait, I was wrong, I don’t sort of get this one at all.)

Brown Sugar - The Rolling Stones
(I finally figured out this one when I was thirty or so. I’m not a big Stones fan, but I happened to be listening to it one day and ‘Bang’ it came to me. I don’t understand what the basis for the song is about, but I get a lot more of the details now.)

Spill The Wine – Eric Burden
(For all of my youth and a good portion of my adult life, I thought the chorus to this song was ‘Do I, dig this girl?’ A while back I discovered that I’d been wrong all that time and it was really, ‘Spill the wine, dig this girl!’ I still didn’t understand what was going on, but I went with the flow. Then, just about a week ago I find out the actual title of the song. Are you ready? It’s, Spill the wine, take the pearl.’ What in the name of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus is that supposed to mean? Did wine used to come with a pearl in the bottom of the bottle, like the worm in tequila? Was this some sort of nasty reference that even my depraved mind couldn’t fathom? I’m still boggled, but I’ll figure it out in time. But for now, I’m going to reprint my favorite portion of the song. It paints such a great visual picture that I am in awe of Mr. Eric Burden. I don’t understand him, but I still hold him in awe.
This is from the middle of the song..

“And I fell asleep and dreamed
I dreamed I was in a Hollywood movie
And that I was the star of the movie
This really blew my mind, the fact that me,
an overfed, long-haired leaping gnome
should be the star of a Hollywood movie.”)

Carry On My Wayward Son - Kansas
(I don’t get it. Is this a war song? A drug song? A song for someone on drugs going off to war? I like the song but the lyrics don’t make any sense to me.)

Levon - Elton John
(Just what in the hell is this song about? I’ve tried to dissect it but got nothing.)

You’re Having My Baby – Paul Anka
(Who could be having Paul Anka’s baby? Paul Anka is as gay as Sigfried and Roy. Is it Johnny Mathis having his baby? Gay dudes can’t have babies. Is this song really some sort of coded message about something that gay men do?)

Hotel California – Eagles
(In high school a creative writing teacher had the entire class try to translate this song. The responses were astounding. Nobody had a clue. I don’t have a clue to this day.)

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
(I’ve heard two takes on this one. The first has it a simple love song, with someone offering to always be there for the one he loves. That’s nice. The other take is that the song is an advertisement for heroin use—as in, when you’re feeling blue, the silver bird is sailing on by. The silver bird, as everyone is supposed to know, is the needle you shoot up with. I don’t know. Paul Simon doesn’t seem to be the type to push ‘H’ but I don’t know.)

You're So Vain - Carly Simon
(My only question about this one is who the lead character is. All the radio DJs claim that it’s Warren Beatty. The only other contender it James Taylor, but that doesn’t ring true.)

Harper Valley P.T.A. - Jeannie C. Riley
(I haven’t heard this song for so long that I really don’t know what the whole conflict was, but I remember way back when really wanting to know what ‘..her mama showed it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.’ I guess I should try and find it online and get my answer.)

The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia – Vicki Lawrence
(This song is well intentioned but confusing none the less. If I understand the story straight, this guy comes home after being out of town for a few weeks, and a guy in the local bar tells him that his wife’s been cheating on him. The dude sees red and then walks to his sister’s house to get a gun. He heads over to the house of one of the guys that his wife’s been cheating with, but there are tiny footprints leading up to the house and inside he finds that the cheating bastard is already dead. He fires a shot to flag down a passing cop and is arrested for murdering the guy. Now the twist is, I think, the sister of the guy who was getting cheated on was the one who did the killing. She even brags that she killed her brother’s wife, but that’s one body that will never be found. What a confusing mess? I’ve read Agatha Christie novels that were easier to follow.)

Ode To Billy Joe – Bobbie Gentry
(What were the mysterious girl and Billy Joe McAllister tossing off the Tallahatchie Bridge that led Billy Joe to jump himself the following day? It’s true what that say about nothing good ever happening up on Choctaw Ridge. But what did happen? I need to know.)

(Not a clue. Not a single clue what this one is about. For years I thought the line was that he ‘..had to have a bath or couldn’t get to sleep..’ but it turned out to be ‘..he had to have a berth or couldn’t put to sea..’. This is a hopeless one. None of the lyrics I remember hearing on the radio are the actual lyrics. This could be a lost cause.)


$14 Million down—Another $50 or so million to go!

I saw Zathura this weekend and to my dismay the theater was more empty than full. Thankfully, across the country it made close to $14 million, so it stands a chance to break even. Once it comes out on DVD and onto the movie channels, people will get a chance to see what they were missing.

Why am I predicting that Zathura will only limp its way to the $50 million mark in the theaters? Easy. Because it’s a family picture.

“Oh, do you mean like Steve Martin’s CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN movie, or his upcoming CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2?”

No, I mean nothing of the sort. What I’m saying is that Zathura is a good family comedy, in the way that the Cheaper By The Dozen movies aren’t. Which is a bloody shame, because I think Steve Martin is one of the funniest men on the planet.

“I’m confused. Both Zathura and the Cheaper movies are family pictures. What’s the difference? The first Cheaper by the Dozen movie made hundreds of millions of bucks!”

The difference is that Zathura is a quality film, while the Cheaper by the Dozen movies, which will soon be joined by Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo’s remake of the 1960s classic, Yours, Mine & Ours, are little more than concoctions cooked up in a vile Hollywood laboratory.

The bulk of the ‘kids’ movies being released today follow the same formula to a ‘T’. The parents of a large group of diversely aged and racially different children discover that their parents are about to do something to disrupt the family unit, so the formerly separatist children band together to commit all manner of hi-jinks to demonstrate to their parents that they like things just the way they were before.

Before the truth behind their actions can be revealed, you can count on parents, babysitters, hapless workmen, and nosey neighbors to fall into vats of gooey paint and plaster, or getting trapped on a conveyor belt rolling through a gauntlet of glue guns, only to be dumped into a vat of chicken feathers.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are splashes of lightweight prater that happen in Zathura, and a splash of stereotyping and some cutout characterization, but there’s no need to check your brain at the door. Plus the movie has a big heart and a sense of wonder that makes going to the movies worth paying ten bucks for a bucket of popcorn.

“So you’re telling me that I should see Zathrua?”

No, you’ve seen it already. You’re my inner monologue and you’re helping me with this post. Remember?

“Nope. Can’t say that I do.”

Well, then, by all means, go see Zathrua. Go early and sit through it three or four times while you’re at it.

“Do you mean it? You won’t miss me?”

I’ll survive. You go on now.


Are Your Oldies Golden or Moldin’?

A lot of my posts start with me going on about how things were when I was a kid. But I think I ought to be allowed due to the myriad of changes in the world that have taken place since I was a wee lad.

I’m not a big fan of change, especially when it’s sprung on me all of a sudden-like and it’s not my idea. When faced with sudden change I tend to wave the stem of my pipe at it and ‘Hurmph!’ a lot. I had a tiny bit of change tossed at me recently. The battery in our trusty Honda died and we had to have it replaced. My wife did a splendid job of dealing with the fellows in the greasy coveralls at the garage near her office. I really think they like her there. Whenever we’ve needed repairs done they’ve gone out of their way to help her at a reasonable charge.

As many of you may know, when you disconnect a car battery you lose the stations that you’ve preset on your car radio. This is an inconvenience, but certainly not the end of the world. On the drive home after picking up the car from the shop my wife did her best to reset the stations. She got some of them right, but not all of them. The Central Coast doesn’t have a huge selection of stations that cater to my tastes. Plus the terrain changes quite a bit as you drive along the coast so some of the best stations don’t reach all the towns you have to drive through.

I am a child of the 60s and the 70s. In the late 60s all I had was a transistor radio, so I listened to a Chicago radio station called WLS. This was AM, of course. In the 60s the whole concept of what FM radio might be was totally alien to me. I was pretty sure that hippies who sniffed glue and smoked pot listened to FM radio. WLS played top twenty, or maybe top thirty songs, so over the course of two or three hours you heard every single song in their catalog, but that was okay.

In the 70s I learned what a great thing ‘stereo’ was, and that you didn’t have to sniff glue to listen to FM. In the mid-70s my friends and I learned that in addition to cool music, there was some subversive comedy happening on the radio—especially on Sunday night.

The fun on Sunday night actually started on television. At either ten or ten-thirty on WTTW, the Chicago Public Television station they started showing Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Nobody had ever seen anything like that. Once Monty Python was over you’ve turn on the radio and listen to the National Lampoon Radio Hour. A lot of early Saturday Night Live folks were on the National Lampoon hour, like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Belushi. Lampoon was more strange than laugh out loud funny, but certainly worth listening to. Next up was the Doctor Demento Radio show. (I never really ‘liked’ the song Fish Heads, but I appreciated what they were going for)

It’s no wonder some of us were so tired on Monday morning. But none of us were too tired to imitate that previous night’s Monty Python bits.

Occasional chunks of comedy and irreverence aside, most of my music listening during the 70s was top twenty and thirty. I was also very active in the high school choir, so this got me interested in Broadway showtunes. I liked to sing a lot back then, at home and in the car, so I gravitated toward singers near my range. I also liked clever wordplay and good storytellers. This meant that my album and 8-track collection included a lot of Paul Simon, Barry Manilow, Heart, Bread, Billy Joel, ELO, and the like. I’ve come to like many singer/songwriters over the years, but my heart has stayed in the 70s.

But something weird happened in the 1970s. Young George Lucas made a movie called American Graffiti. I didn’t see the film at the time but it seemed to glorify the music and goofy times teenagers experienced in the late 50s and early 60s. My sisters bought the soundtrack. There was some weird ass music around in the 50s and 60s.

Before long everywhere you turned you were getting blasted with 50s and 60s music. Even one of my favorite television shows, ‘Love, American Style’ featured a segment about life in the 50s. This segment went on to become the series Happy Days, which spawned Laverne and Shirley and seven or eight other series.

At some point someone decided to officially refer to a big portion of what was passing for pop music in the 50s and early 60s as ‘The Oldies’.

A lot of people, who were probably only scraping by with their music when it first came out, must have been making money hand over fist during the renaissance of The Oldies in the 70s. Good for them, I say. Everyone deserves to make a living.

I think the renewed interest in The Oldies more or less peaked with the release of the movie Grease. I think by that time we’d all had our fill of Sha Na Na. Besides, by that time George Lucas had given us Star Wars to focus on, and the 1980s were coming. Who had time for the Big Bopper?

The other day I heard from the Big Bopper again. Or maybe it was Buddy Holly. I was in the car singing along with a Barry Manilow classic (1979’s Ships, if you must know) and when the song ended they went right into some sappy sock hop do-wop diddy. It seems that one of the stations that my wife had programmed into the radio, a station that claims to have ‘all the classics you love, all day long’ has taken it upon themselves to smush together songs from the 50s through the 80s! If you want to know how good this combination goes together, mix yourself up a big glass full of mustard and milk. It’s just plain wrong. My wife tries so very hard to attend to my wussy 70s music needs (when she’s alone in the car she either listens to NPR or heavy metal CDs) so I in no way blame her. How could I? There's no way she would do such a thing on purpose.

Some things go great together. Other things make me want to drive an ice pick into my ear drums.